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For centuries, Mary has been given the title of “Mother of Sorrows” or “Our Lady of Sorrows” because of the pain and suffering she experienced as the mother of Jesus and because her experiences of suffering symbolize and mirror the many types of suffering that have always afflicted human beings, and that continue to afflict us today.

The Devotion of the Seven Sorrows of Mary has a long history, as it grew side-by-side with devotion to the crucified Christ during the Middle Ages. It was officially promulgated by the Church in the early 19th Century. The purpose of the devotion is to promote union with the suffering of Christ through union with the suffering Mary endured as Jesus’ mother. (Devotion to Mary never stands alone; Mary always points to Jesus.)

Today, on this memorial of Our Lady or Sorrows, you might take some time today reflecting on one or more of the Seven Sorrows of Mary to see what they have to say to you about your own experiences of suffering. Here they are, with their scriptural references:

The prophesy of Simeon – Luke 2:27-35
The flight into Egypt – Matthew 2:13-15
The losing of Jesus in the temple – Luke 2:43-51
Mary meets Jesus carrying his cross – Luke 23:27
Mary stands beneath the cross of Jesus – John 19:25-27
Mary receives the dead body of Jeseus – John 19:38
Jesus is laid in the tomb – John 39:42

Celebrating a Cross

To many people, it might seem scandalous to celebrate a cross, as Catholics do today on this Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. The cross appears to be a symbol of defeat: the man that many believed would be the Messiah is arrested, mocked, tortured and put to death on the cross. What is there to celebrate in that?

If the story ended with Jesus’ death on the cross, the world would be quite right to wonder at our celebration of the cross. But what begins with a death on the cross ends in Resurrection – the Resurrection of Christ, and through Him, the resurrection of all of us.

The cross reminds us that we must die to self to rise in full union with God. The cross reminds us that our physical death is only a transition from this human life to a new life; it is a sign of our everlasting life with God. And the cross also reminds us that whatever suffering we face, we do it with God and never alone.

In today’s Gospel from John, we hear the comforting, so oft-quoted words, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.”

When we exalt the cross, we at one and the same time reverence, celebrate and marvel at incarnation, death and resurrection – Jesus’ and ours. And that is something worthy of being exalted.

Being All In For Christ

Yesterday I attended Mass at Our Lady of Lourdes, where my friend and colleague Fr. Dan Griffith (who is the pastor at Lourdes) said the Mass.

The first reading was a beautiful passage from Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians. Paul begins by speaking of that fact that preaching the Gospel is an obligation, not a do-it-or-not act. One can hear in his words the depth of his passion for carrying his charge.

Although I am free in regard to all,
I have made myself a slave to all
so as to win over as many as possible.
I have become all things to all, to save at least some.
All this I do for the sake of the Gospel,
so that I too may have a share in it.

Fr. Dan talked about Paul’s passion for his ministry, describing him as being “all in for Christ.”

It is a good description of what our discipleship demands of us – being all in. Not: I’ll evangelize now and then when I can spare a minute from the rest of my activities. Not: I’ll slot God at the end of the work week. But being all in – with our total being every step of the way. The difference between God is my hobby and God is my life.

And it was Paul’s being all in that allowed him to go out as effectively as he did to the various communities to whom he preached.

Be all in for Christ. Go all out for Christ. It’s pretty straightforward.

Yesterday was the first session of an 8-session program series I will be offering at UST Law School over the course of this academic year on Discerning My Place in the World.

As I suggested in the description for the program, law school is, among other things, a three-year process whereby students discern what will be their place in the legal profession and in the world. I do not mean to suggest vocational discernment ends when students graduate. Discernment is a life-long process, as our calling changes from time to time. (And while most of the participants in our spiritual formation programs are law students, participants often include faculty and staff who are long out of school.)

The series will address a series of topics relating to vocational discernment. Today’s subject was Recognizing Our Gifts.

I began by introducing the series and then offered some reflections relating both to recognizing our own gifts and recognizing the gifts of others. I then gave the participants time for individual reflection, after which we had some time for sharing of their reflection experience.

You can access a recording of my talk here or stream it from the icon below. (The podcast runs for 22:04 and there is a short pause where I invited the participants to introduce themselves.) A copy of the prayer material I distributed is here.

Earlier this week my friend Gene shared that, after going through security in an airport the prior day, he saw a mural of the American flag. He described the way the red and white stripes shimmered in a way that caught his eye causing him to look more closely. As he did, he saw that there were many names written there – the names of those who lost their lives in 9/11 – including the name Michael F. Stabile. As I read his description of his feelings at seeing the name of my father’s youngest brother, my eyes filled with tears.

Thirteen years and I still cry when I think of that day. Why? I know that the world has seen far worse than the attack on the World Trade Center that day. I know that people suffer every day from the loss of family members through war and acts of terror and other acts of violence.

I don’t know what it is like to live in a land in which bombs fall as a matter of course. I don’t know what it is like to go to bed at night and wonder if you or your bed will still be there in the morning. But I know that I can close my eyes and still see the ash on the fire trucks in NYC and the debris in the streets of lower Manhattan and the smell of smoke. And I still feel the pain of the loss of a family member, a friend and the sibling of another friend.

Last year, I offered a brief reflection at our Weekly Manna gathering on 9/11. I spoke about what it means to say “Blessed are they who mourn” in the context of my experience of 9/11.

You can access a recording of that reflection here or stream it from the icon below. The podcast runs for 12:10.

In the 2000 movie Pay it Forward, a young schoolboy comes up with an ingenious idea to change the world for the better. His idea is to help three people do something they can’t do for themselves, and to ask them, instead of paying him back, to thank him by giving help to three other people, who in turn will give thanks by doing something for three other people, and so on. Not a great film, but the pay it forward idea has power.

I’ve mentioned that we recently moved to St. Paul. Shortly after we moved, my friend Steve came for a visit. Upon his departure last Tuesday morning, he told me he had ordered a gift that we would receive two days later.

The day came and went and no package arrived. A couple of days later, I checked with Steve and we realized that he sent the package to the wrong address: my new house number is 1544 and he sent it to 544.

We gave the package up for lost. But several days later I received an e-mail with the re line, “Might I have your package?” The person who lived at 544 tracked me down, having found a package with my name outside of his door. Not only that, but rather than asking me to come get it, he dropped it by house the other day.

When I wrote again to say thank you, he wrote back saying, “No trouble at all. All I ask is that you pay it forward to someone else someday!”

I smiled when I read it. What better payback for a kindness than to pay it forward. And I plan to.

In today’s Gospel from St. Matthew, Jesus instructs his disciples in how to deal with someone who has wronged them. First, the wronged individual should speak to the wrongdoer and try to help him see his transgression. If that doesn’t work, one must take a couple of others to help the person see his fault. If that fails, bring the church community to help speak to him. Jesus ends his instruction with words we are all familiar with: “Where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them.”

I resonated with the temptation Kayla McClurg speaks of in her commentary on this passage:

Sometimes, in a blissfully quiet moment, or when we are tired and disappointed in ourselves and others, we hear a sneaky little voice telling us we might be better off attempting this journey alone. We can discern our own callings, read thought-provoking books, join an online community, work on loving humanity while avoiding actual people.

As tempting as that can be, as McClurg reminds, “for better and for worse, we are not alone. We have companions.”

Speaking of Jesus’ instruction, she writes:

Jesus says, I know your community, how obstinate and annoying they can be, how they sometimes speak ill of you and blame you for their own problems. I called all of you together, remember? What I’d like for you to learn is not to puff up like a self-righteous toad, or point out how highly regarded and generally well-liked you are. No, this is the time to practice what I have told you will be your primary work—forgive, and live in peace. First, go right to the source of your pain and say what is bothering you. Who knows, maybe you old scoundrels will hear each other this time. You’ll both have a laugh and be done with it. If you get no response, go again and take one or two others along. If the person who is on the outs with you still won’t listen, go to the entire church membership. Not to prove how right you are, but because this is the group that is committed to forgiving one another as I have forgiven you. Together you share responsibility for finding ways to live together in the bonds of unity and peace.

Did you forget that this is the final goal? Not to make everyone feel better, not to decide who is right and wrong, but to bring back together whatever has come apart—to mend whatever breaks.

An important reminder. We are a community, members of the Body of Christ. And we correct another, not to prove we are right, but because of our commitment to living together in unity and peace; our goal is bring back together what has come apart.

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